Harris tests her appeal to black churches — and limits of IRS rules

Harris tests her appeal to black churches — and limits of IRS rules
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Vice President Kamala Harris is readying an early test of her abilities to rouse voters in the 2022 midterm elections as she works to pull Democratic former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe across the finish line in a closely contested gubernatorial race this year.

Democrats are especially hopeful that Harris will prove effective in turning out black voters throughout Virginia, as McAuliffe faces off against Republican Glenn Youngkin, complete with a big push in the churches.

“The McAuliffe campaign understands that the black vote is critical in this election. And it is a common tactic among Democratic statewide candidates in Virginia to try to drum up the black vote in African American churches late in the election cycle,” said Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.

JILL BIDEN STUMPS FOR TERRY MCAULIFFE IN COUNTY WHERE GOP WIN COULD MEAN ‘GAME OVER’ FOR DEMOCRATS

Some 300 black churches will air a video message from the vice president urging attendees to vote for McAuliffe. The two-minute video had racked up more than 1.2 million views by Monday evening.

“I believe that my friend Terry McAuliffe is the leader Virginia needs at this moment,” Harris said in the video, praising the Democrat’s “long track record of getting things done for the people of Virginia.”

She continues: “So please, vote after today’s service. And if you cannot vote today, make a plan to go vote. Go to iwillvote.com.”

Harris's video has nevertheless prompted questions about the enforcement of an IRS rule that bars churches and tax-exempt groups from endorsing political candidates.

The Johnson Amendment prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations, such as charities and churches, from engaging in any political campaign activity, with the video’s distribution appearing to violate this.

“The White House could claim that any violation was committed by the churches if they played the video in prohibited areas. That assumes that this was not created for that purpose, but it would effectively throw the churches under the bus,” said Jonathan Turley, Shapiro professor of public interest law at George Washington University Law School.

The churches could forfeit their tax-exempt status, though lax enforcement in past cases makes this extremely unlikely, Turley said. “Nevertheless, there is a legitimate interest in whether the White House knowingly participated in an effort to campaign in churches in violation of their federal obligations.”

Asked how the video came about and what considerations were taken to abide by federal laws, the vice president’s office referred the Washington Examiner to the McAuliffe campaign.

“If the Harris staff knew the video was targeting church audiences, there are both legal and policy concerns. The law itself reinforces the separation of church and state. That is a defining principle for many Democrats. Moreover, since the administration enforces our tax rules, it should not be knowingly encouraging the violation of those rules,” Turley said. “If the IRS were to investigate any churches, it could find itself looking into communications with the vice president’s staff or associates.”

The video marks the latest measure of Democrats’ aggressive campaign to stir voters to the polls. A slew of big names will stump with McAuliffe ahead of the Nov. 2 Election Day, including Harris on Thursday and former President Barack Obama next week.

And Democrats’ focus on black voters is crucial.

“In Virginia, the black vote is the bulwark of the Democratic Party,” Rozell said. “In Virginia, Democratic candidates do not win the white vote.”

Whether Harris, who is black and of South Asian descent, is able to motivate a core faction of the Democratic base could prove telling for her future political ambitions.

McAuliffe had long held a comfortable lead over Youngkin, but this shifted as President Joe Biden’s polling collapsed in early August. As Democrats and independents tempered their expectations of a Biden presidency, McAuliffe lost ground.

His approval with independent voters fell three percentage points to 41% since August, according to a Wason Center poll conducted earlier this month. Youngkin now scores 50% support among the same group after gaining 11 percentage points.

The party is confronting a possible loss in a state that Biden won by ten percentage points against former President Donald Trump in last year’s presidential race. Officials are now seeking a way to resurrect McAuliffe's lead.

Factors weighing on this include strong Republican enthusiasm and a dulling of the Trump foil. The off-off year election means voter participation is also likely to be lower.

“In the end, we do know the Republican base is very motivated this year given the long streak of party defeats. We also know the Democratic base is larger than the GOP one. So it will be, in part, a turnout election,” Rozell said. “‘Will Republican enthusiasm overcome the demographic advantages that Democrats have?’ is really the ultimate question.”

He said McAuliffe’s efforts to portray Youngkin as a Trump clone “hasn’t been connecting as much with independent voters and voters in the exurban counties who have been moving more Republican in this cycle.”

Meanwhile, very high Republican enthusiasm has changed the dynamics of the race. “Having been shut out for 12 years in Virginia, there is a real hunger in the party to reverse their fortunes.”

A Republican win will also boost the party nationally.

“Republicans think that this could be a precursor to the midterm elections in 2022 and help further motivate the Republican base around the country,” Rozell said.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER

If Youngkin cements a strong lead in certain counties, the race will be “game over” for Democrats, Republican political strategist Shaun Kenney told the Washington Examiner last week.

“This was a state that Democrats believed they were going to hold for the next 20 years,” said Kenney, a former executive director of the Virginia GOP. “Turns out they couldn’t even hold it seven months.”

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Tags: News, Biden Administration, White House, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, Virginia, Campaigns, IRS

Original Author: Katherine Doyle

Original Location: Harris tests her appeal to black churches — and limits of IRS rules

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